BY LIZWE SEBATHA
BULAWAYO — Bulawayo City Council’s (BCC) e-patient health management project is still suffering system challenges two months after it was launched with patients forced to spend several hours before being attended to.
The use of the new electronic health records (EHR), the process of e-capturing patients that visit council clinics in Bulawayo, was introduced in October as a novel exercise to allow the local authority to migrate to a paperless health care service.
However, council health workers and patients equally shared the frustrations of system challenges when BCC’s EHR management system was rolled out in October. For patients, it meant spending several hours in queues before being attended to.
On the other hand, nurses were ill-trained and ill-prepared for the e-system as they faced challenges in operating the ICT gadgets and understanding the programs used in the e-capturing of patient data into the database.
As if that was not enough, network connectivity proved to be a challenge.
At the time, city fathers acknowledged the challenges, promising to iron them out within days, but several weeks later, the same challenges persist.
“We are overwhelmed. While we appreciate the noble project, I still feel that it was rushed,” says a nurse at Luveve clinic.
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The nurse complained about the added workload of e-capturing patient information on the EHR database.
The EHR project was initially supposed to be implemented around March last year. However, its rollout was suspended due to Covid-19 response restrictions.
In September, council said its health workers had undergone extensive training on the use of the EHR, a system it adds will build on the existing electronic patient monitoring system (EPMS).
However, nurses refute the claim.
“If that was the case, we would not be having these challenges. It was rushed before all health workers could understand the use of this new process of e-capturing patients into the database.”
Council received the network equipment for the EHR program from America Centre for Disease Control (CDC) through ICAP (formerly the International Centre for Aids Care and Treatment Programs) in February 2020.
Installation and cabling of the health facilities was done in the same month with configuration of wireless access points (WAPs) beginning February 20.
Levison Moyo, who was suffering from an unnamed illness, was forced to leave the institution in frustration.
“I have been here since 7am, and the queue is not moving. They keep telling us to be patient when we are in pain,” Moyo said as he walked away from the Princess Margaret clinic in the central business district.
Several other patients at other clinics have expressed frustrations over delays in accessing treatment owing to e-health system challenges.
Patients are flocking to council clinics where services are relatively affordable compared to private health facilities.
Private doctors charge anything from US$25 for consultation.
Bulawayo deputy mayor Mlandu Ncube acknowledges the local authority still faces challenges with its e-patient health management program.
“Yes, change is always disruptive, but it is necessary hence the challenges we have been facing,” Ncube says.
“Also, we have to appreciate that this tech was not part of their curriculum at nursing schools while also for some, it’s a question of struggling to use ICT.”
According to the World Health Organisation, e-health tools are designed to improve health surveillance, health-system management, health education and clinical decision-making, and to support behavioural changes related to public-health priorities and disease management.
Ncube says the council is addressing the associated challenges through recruitment of trainee nurses to speed up the process.
“We are deploying more students to help speed up the process. However, we are happy as our nurses are now adapting and familiarising themselves with the e-health program.”
“We are open to any partnerships from individuals and others for assistance in e-technologies so that we successfully migrate to a paperless health management system without much inconvenience to patients and staffers alike.”
l This article was originally published by The Citizen Bulletin, a hyperlocal news outlet covering Covid-19 in Matabeleland.